A slow jour­ney through Por­tu­gal

Amid Por­tu­gal’s tran­quil coun­try­side and along its wild At­lantic coast, you can dis­cover sump­tu­ous palaces and savour rich red wines all year round

Countryfile Magazine - - Great Days Out -

Por­tu­gal has long been a na­tion of great sea­far­ing ad­ven­tur­ers, with ex­plor­ers such as Vasco da Gama bring­ing back riches dur­ing the 15th- and 16th-cen­tury Golden Age. This legacy lives on on in the form of mag­nif­i­cent his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ments and sump­tu­ous palaces, as well as cul­tural in­flu­ences from for­mer African and South Amer­i­can do­min­ions.

The ori­gins of the mourn­ful fado mu­sic are less clear, but this soul­ful lament per­fectly en­cap­su­lates the na­tional spirit of saudade – a nos­tal­gic ‘long­ing’ for a past out of reach, and a sense of be­ing a ‘land apart’. And al­though this is lit­er­ally true, with Por­tu­gal’s po­si­tion at the west­ern edge of Europe, it is an in­cred­i­bly re­ward­ing coun­try to visit at any time of year, with vi­brant, colour­ful cities and won­der­fully un­spoiled cor­ners, both in­land and along the beau­ti­ful At­lantic coast.


Porto sits by the River Douro, with lay­ers of his­toric hous­ing clam­ber­ing up the hill­side from its vi­brant water­front. On the op­po­site bank, in Vila Nova de Gaia, the gi­ant signs of San­de­man, Gra­ham’s and Cock­burn em­bla­zon the rooftops of the fa­mous Port lodges, wait­ing to open their prized bar­rels to vis­i­tors. Ex­plore the maze of churches, mu­se­ums, restau­rants and tram­lines, and take a ride on elec­trico no.1 to the pretty sub­urb of Foz do Douro, where the river meets the At­lantic Ocean.


Por­tu­gal’s most pic­turesque train ride, the jour­ney from Porto to Pin­hão, fol­lows the course of the Douro (known as the ‘river of gold’) as it snakes its way up the val­ley to­wards the pic­turesque vine ter­races that are the source RI WKH DUHDōV KLJKO\ SUL]HG IRUWLƓHG ZLQH )URP Pin­hão, river­side paths lead to fam­ily-owned quin­tas where grapes are still trod­den by foot, and where ŴDW ERWWRPHG ra­belo boats sit in calm wa­ters.


Coimbra, for­merly the Por­tuguese cap­i­tal, is a fas­ci­nat­ing if lit­tle-known city – home to the coun­try’s old­est and most pres­ti­gious uni­ver­sity. Baroque palaces and churches lord it over pas­tel-fronted houses on the hill­side above the old town – a maze of al­ley­ways where el­e­gant aca­demic build­ings are in­ter­spersed with a MXPEOH RI ŴRZHU IHVWRRQHG EDOFRQLHV DQG KLGGHQ court­yards. Coimbra’s thriv­ing stu­dent pop­u­la­tion helps to en­sure a lively at­mos­phere for vis­i­tors.


Trundling along Lis­bon’s streets in a 1930s yel­low tram is a mem­o­rable in­tro­duc­tion to Por­tu­gal’s ab­sorb­ing cap­i­tal. The no.28 creaks its way through at­mo­spheric Alfama, a maze of nar­row streets be­low Castelo São Jorge, be­fore lev­el­ling out in aris­to­cratic Baixa, char­ac­terised by noble squares, wide streets and mon­u­men­tal foun­tains. Then it climbs to reach the Bairro Alto, Lis­bon’s ‘wild child’ district, whose net­work of bars KDV EHHQ WKH WRDVW RI WKH FLW\ IRU ƓYH FHQWXULHV


The bat­tle­ments of Sin­tra’s Moor­ish Cas­tle un­du­late across the hill­sides like a European ‘Great Wall’. This is a world of ŴDPER\DQW FUHDWLRQV VXFK DV WKH DVWRQLVKLQJ 3HQD Palace, with its fairy-tale onion domes, tur­rets and portcullises. Lord By­ron wrote of “Cin­tra’s

glo­ri­ous Eden”, and it’s not hard to imag­ine why.


The gen­tle hills and quiet val­leys of the Serra de São Mamede Nat­u­ral Park form a nat­u­ral bor­der with Spain; and H[TXLVLWH IRUWLƓHG WRZQV VXFK DV 0DUY¥R DQG &DVWHOR GH 9LGH are tes­ta­ment to a long and tur­bu­lent past. But peace now reigns in this land of cob­bled lanes, quiet vil­lages and cork oak woods.


Évora is a small but might­ily im­pres­sive city that sits above the Alen­tejo plains in mag­is­te­rial splen­dour. Among many im­pres­sive sights is the 2nd-cen­tury Tem­ple of Diana, the best-pre­served in Por­tu­gal, plus Ro­man Baths and a huge Gothic cathe­dral that dom­i­nates the sky­line.


Along the rugged, un­spoiled Costa Vicentina, vir­gin beaches backed by dra­matic cliffs are washed by a rest­less, deep-blue ocean. The pace of life is re­fresh­ingly un­hur­ried, and the lo­cals of­fer a warmly en­thu­si­as­tic wel­come.

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